From the blog

Crimson Gown (New Single)

Crimson Gown

I am delighted launch my new single ‘Crimson Gown’. The other track on the CD is called Insieme, a piano instrumental. I composed and arranged the music and Fiach Moriarty wrote the lyrics and melody for Crimson Gown. Miriam Ingram added beautiful harmonies and it’s accompanied on guitar with Pete Meighan and my String Quartet.

The Plot

‘Crimson Gown’ is about Irish Actresses Margaret Woffington. It tells of her rivalry and jealousy of George Anne Bellamy and with leading English actor David Garrick. 

Margaret Woffington, George Anne Bellamy and Garrick all performed Sheridan and Shakespeare in Smock Alley in the 1800’s. Garrick was one of the leading actors of the day and they all also performed at Drury Lane. In London were the alleged incident took place, seemingly Woffington tried to stab Bellamy while on stage.

We shot the video featuring live Artist Eleanor Lawler, which you can see on my website www.simonqc.com 

The video was filmed in Smock Alley, in keeping with the history of story. ‘Crimson Gown’ is an adaptation of a book called ‘Wild Irish Women’ by Marian Broderick. 

The Actors

To give further context here is a history of the actors we reference in the song. Margaret Woffington was born in Dublin in 1714 and died in London in 1760. She was one of the leading actresses of her time. Woffington became a street singer to support her mother and sister and made her stage debut at the age of 10.

This was as Polly Peachum in a juvenile production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. In 1732 she first performed in London in the role of Macheath in the same play.

Her professional career actually was launched in 1737, with her success as Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. By 1740 she was Dublin’s leading actress. She played Sylvia in George Farquhar’s Recruiting Officer and Sir Harry Wildair by the same author in the The Constant Couple.

Her most famous “breeches part” made her Dublin’s darling. London audiences were equally as enthusiastic. In November 1740, she appeared in the same parts at Covent Garden.

Woffington could now command theatres, parts, and lovers and at Drury Lane (1740–46). She gained new fame in parts ranging from Sir John Vanbrugh’s Lady Brute and Clarissa, to Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Mistress Ford. In 1742 she acted in Dublin with David Garrick, who was until 1745 the most important man in her life.

Leading Roles

Garrick wanted her to play, as leading lady and his wife, under his direction. Woffington though could never adapt herself to his or any other man’s ideals. At Covent Garden (1747–50) she revealed Garrick’s influence in tragic parts.

In Dublin (1750–54) she enjoyed social as well as professional triumph. The only woman member of the Beefsteak Club, she was praised for an “understanding rare in females.”

In London

At Covent Garden (1754–57) she revived old parts, created new ones, and made new friends. Among them the statesman Edmund Burke, who is thought to have been one of her many lovers. In this as in much else, the stories are exaggerated.

Though connected by rumour with many men, she is only known to have had four lovers. In 1756 her illness began to be visible and in 1757, during a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, she collapsed. It was during Rosalind’s epilogue at the line “I would kiss as many . . ,” after which she retired from the stage.

George Anne Bellamy

George Anne Bellamy, was born 1727 in Fingal, in Dublin. She died on February 16th in London in 1788. The actresses stage career and personal life, were not entirely atypical of her era. Her best performances were in such tragic roles, as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Bellamy was the “accidental” daughter of a Quaker lady, who eloped from boarding school with the diplomat Lord Tyrawley.

She was named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother married a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy was acknowledged by the name Tyrawley and as his daughter. He provided for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne.

While living with her mother in London, Bellamy met the theatrical manager John Rich. She also met other leading stars of the stage and was soon determined to pursue an acting career.

Her early roles

Her early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, were as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Bellamy’s reputation as an actress rested largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner.

Her career reached its pinnacle when, in 1750 with her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo. It was said to surpass the work of the revered Susanna Cibber, in a rival production of the play.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, took its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life was marred by ill health and credit troubles. In 1785 a benefit was held on her behalf at Covent Garden. In the same year her six-volume story recounted with questionable reliability the events of her life.

David Garrick

David Garrick was born February 19, 1717 in Hereford,  in England. He died on January 20th 1779, in London. He was an n English actor, producer, dramatist, poet, and co-manager of the Drury Lane Theatre.

Early Years

Garrick was from French and Irish descent, the son of Peter Garrick, a captain in the English army.  Arabella Clough, the daughter of a vicar at Lichfield cathedral, was of Irish extraction. David was born in Hereford, where his father was on recruiting duty. In the family home at Lichfield, the seven children were reared on the highest moral principles in conditions of strict economy.

To obtain full pay, after several years on half pay, Captain Garrick joined an infantry regiment at Gibraltar. David, then 14 was eldest son at home, reported family progress in lively letters that, on the whole, did credit to the Lichfield grammar school. In 1736 Gilbert Walmesley, registrar of the ecclesiastical court of Lichfield, lived in the bishop’s palace.  He lent his premises for private theatricals organised by his young protégé.

New Venture

He was advised that “Little Davy” should be sent to the academy, which was opened that year by Samuel Johnson, at Edial, near Lichfield. This venture lasted only a few months and on March 2, 1737, Johnson and Garrick set out for London. According to Johnson, he had two-pence-halfpenny in his pocket and David three halfpence.

Garrick entered his name as a law student at Lincoln’s Inn and prepared to study with a friend of Walmesley’s at Rochester, in Kent. But his father’s death in March 1737 and a legacy of £1,000 from an uncle made it possible for a change of plan. David had spent some months in Lisbon as apprentice to his uncle, as a vintner.

Garrick & Co

He and his elder brother set up as Garrick & Co, wine merchants. Peter lived at Lichfield and David in London in Durham Yard, off the Strand. His business took him into places of entertainment, where he soon made amny acquaintances. These included with the actor Charles (“Wicked Charlie”) Macklin.   He conferred with him on the modern theories of acting, as well as the elegant but unreliable Charles Fleetwood, who was the manager of Drury Lane Theatre.

This was one of the two theatres authorised by the 1737 Licensing Act, the other being Covent Garden. In April 1740, Drury Lane produced Garrick’s first comedy, Lethe, or Esop in the Shades.

Beginning of his Acting Career

Garrick entered the acting profession anonymously, in a mask. In March 1741, upon the illness of the actor billed to take the part, he dashed onto the stage as Harlequin at a small, but unlicensed theatre in Goodman’s Fields.

Soon afterward the proprietor took a company to Ipswich for the summer season. Garrick appeared there in Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko as Aboan, a noble savage, with his face blackened. Later he played Captain Duretête, in George Farquhar’s The Inconstant.

He was well received in several parts after that. But when he applied at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, neither Fleetwood nor old John Rich, the manager of Covent Garden, wanted him. He had to return to Goodman’s Fields.

His mother had died in 1740, but he still dared not tell his family, that he had entered a profession then generally held in low esteem. Not until the night after his astounding first appearance as Richard III in 1741 did he break the news to Peter.

Success at Last

The instant success of a young, unknown actor in a major tragic Shakespearean part, remains one of the romances of theatrical history. The Garrick legend was founded in a single night.

Audiences were weary of the pompous recitative and stately attitudinising imposed by French tradition. They were ready for the naturalistic new style and they soon perceived that this bright young man could do anything.

He was equally good in Pamela, a dramatisation of Samuel Richardson’s novel. In Thomas Otway’s The Orphan and Venice Preserv’d; in Colley Cibber’s Love Makes a Man.  He appeared in ‘The Fop’s Fortune’ in ‘King Lear’ and in a farce he himself wrote, The Lying Valet.

Reviews

He wrote to Peter: “Mr Pit, who was reckoned the Greatest Orator in the house of Commons, said I was the best actor on that English stage had produced.” Alexander Pope had pronounced: “That young man never had an equal as an actor and he will never have a rival.

” Thomas Gray wrote to Horace Walpole that a dozen dukes a night attended Goodman’s Fields. So much adulation, so easily won, might have demoralised a less stable character. But Garrick, though highly-strung and sensitive, had a strong vein of common sense and remarkable staying power.

Fleetwood was now eager to secure him for Drury Lane and offered a salary larger than ever proposed to any performer. Before the season of 1742–43 Garrick went over to Dublin. He played at the theatre in Smock Alley with the captivating Peg Woffington, with whom he was already in love, and whom he hoped to marry.

His Roles

There, his success was tremendous, and he continued to triumph at Drury Lane from 1742–45, playing such diverse roles as Hamlet. The simple-minded Abel Drugger in by Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist. He also appeared as the voluble Francis Archer, in George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.

But Fleetwood’s patent of the theatre was running out, and he was by then a ruined man. In 1743 Garrick sued him for £600 arrears of salary and led an actor’s strike against him.

One side effect of which was a quarrel with Macklin. A reconciliation was arranged in 1747, but Macklin’s senile mutterings, were noted down by his biographer. He became the fountainhead of the anti-Garrick legends of vanity, avarice meanness, and arrogance.

In the winter of 1745–46 Garrick was in Dublin, sharing with Thomas Sheridan. The playwright and actor-manager,  was the director of the Theatre Royal. During this time, negotiations began for Garrick to become part owner and manager of Drury Lane Theatre.

In the season of 1746–47 Garrick made his only appearances at Covent Garden. John Rich had also secured James Quin, the outstanding exponent of the old style of acting and the season became a duel between them.

Reforms of Drury Lane Theatre

In April of 1747 friends in the city helped Garrick to raise £8,000, his share of the purchase money for the lease and furnishings of Drury Lane Theatre and renewal of the patent, in partnership with one James Lacy, a failed actor with a flair for the entertainment trade, who had been stage manager at Covent Garden.

Garrick was to perform and to choose plays and players; Lacy, assisted by a weakish, devoted younger Garrick, while “Brother George,” dealt with the business side. Drury Lane was redecorated and reopened in September 1747 with Macklin as Shylock and a prologue by Johnson. This set forth Garrick’s principles, as a producer of devotion to Shakespeare and reform of plays and players and ending in famous appeal.

Garrick’s Health

Garrick was unwell, however. He had endured many minor ailments, indicative of overstrain, in the past months, during which he had never acted more poignantly. The infidelities and extravagance of Peg Woffington had convinced him that they had better not marry.

He had announced to his brilliant new troupe that they would find his rule stricter than any to which they were accustomed. Among his stars were Macklin, Woffington, and Kitty Clive, the only actress of whom he was said to be afraid, but one who was to become a dear friend.

Reforms

Plans were made for reforming audiences as well as actors. He tried refusing admittance behind the scenes and on the stage and attempted to discontinue the practice of reduced entry fees for those who left early or came late, but these changes resulted in riots.

He planned to bring down the orchestra from the gallery and to enlarge the auditorium. The apron a fore-stage in front of the curtain onto which players marched, struck a pose, and took up their stances for lengthy soliloquies, became less prominent.

New Acting Style

This was the new natural style of acting and Garrick hoped to introduce new lighting. But it was not until 1765 did he get his footlights and sidelights, which were oil lamps with reflectors.

Most important was to be his choice of plays and manner of production. He was going to produce much more Shakespeare, purged of the coarse language and effects of Restoration drama.

Remembered

The name of Garrick should be remembered with that of Shakespeare. He would add a death scene between Romeo and Juliet.  He restored much of the original text lost in adaptations by the Restoration playwrights, Thomas Otway and Colley Cibber.

He would present Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaption of King Lear, without the Fool and with a happy ending. Gave The Fairies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) without the clownish artisans and Hamlet without the gravediggers and the tragic fate of Ophelia.

Florizel and Perdita (adapted from The Winter’s Tale) and Dryden’s version of The Tempest would make charming light operas. He would rewrite The Taming of the Shrew, adapting the role of Katharina for Kitty Clive.

In general, his audiences, accustomed to rewritings of Shakespeare, accepted his “improvements” with docility: they at least had the merit of keeping the plays on the stage by suiting them to the taste of the time. Moreover, Garrick’s acting and casting often succeeded in interpreting character in a way closer to Shakespeare and new to the audience.

Married

On June 22, 1749, Garrick married Eva Maria Veigel, a Viennese opera dancer who spoke little English and was a devout Roman Catholic. Under the stage name of La Violette, she had enchanted audiences at the Opera House in the Haymarket in 1746.

She had refused to dance for Garrick at Drury Lane in 1748 and the following year she consented to retire. The marriage, though childless, was happy, and the Garricks’ hospitality became famous.

Successes And Setbacks

At Drury Lane, Garrick went from strength to strength. He had already appeared in most of the parts in which he was liked best. He realised with good humour that, as he was slightly below middle height.

He had put on weight and had given given up youthful characters. By adding to his fame he played more mature roles, like Abel Drugger, King Lear, Macbeth and  Richard III.

His mobile features, dark complexion and eyes, were widely praised for their lustre, expressiveness and piercing brilliance. In search of “copy,” he frequented the law courts and House of Commons and would even visit the scene of a family tragedy.

Critics disagreed as to whether he excelled in tragedy or comedy. He himself once told a young aspirant that comedy called for the greater skill.

Financial Success

Though he raised Drury Lane Theatre from penury to astounding financial success. He made improvements in 1747 to 1748 and 1762. Through the acting of his company,  he had made it London’s most flourishing theatre, but he had his setbacks.

He burdened his actors with some deadly historical and classical tragedies. He could turn disaster into success however. When his theatre was wrecked by hooligans in November 1755, he faced a hostile house with courage.

When in 1769 preternaturally wet weather washed out his cherished Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford-on-Avon, he refurbished both costumes and script for London. He played The Jubilee to packed houses and emerged with a profit.

Accused of avarice, though his inconspicuous charities were many, he was laughed at for his vanity and love of staying at great houses. He was involved in a succession of “paper wars” with touchy and even slanderous disappointed writers and players.

Charles Churchill, who both praised and attacked him, and Samuel Foote, who ridiculed the extravagant Shakespeare Jubilee. Garrick’s caricatures of fellow actors in the Duke of Buckingham’s The Rehearsal in his early days gave great offence.

Rivals

His rivalry with Rich, at Covent Garden, was sometimes acrimonious, but sometimes it led to new success. Rich had prided himself on his Christmas pantomimes. Garrick’s, with superb effects and lighting by Philip James de Loutherbourg. 

He was a young expert in scenic design who came to Garrick from Paris and far surpassed them. For his own spectacular “Christmas gambol,” Harlequin’s Invasion (1759), with music by William Boyce, he wrote the patriotic song, “Heart of Oak.”

Writings

Though “Heart of Oak” is perhaps the only poem by which he is remembered, his quality as a poet is shown by songs added to plays. Also by verses to Peg Woffington (the early ones those of a young man deeply in love.

The bitter “Epistle to Mrs. Woffington” of 1745 exposing “the naked truth”) and to his wife. As a dramatist (he wrote more than 20 plays and “entertainments” and adapted many more). He suffered from having written for a particular company and audience. His farces and burlesques, though lively, have not lasted over time.

Only The Clandestine Marriage(1766), written with George Colman the Elder, is still successfully revived. His letters, however, have lasting interest. All of his life a prolific letter writer, he wrote as he acted, with ease, spontaneity, and versatility. His letters are a valuable source for the details of his busy life, the tangled theatrical history of his time, and his character and outlook.

Last Years

In 1763 the Garricks’ departed for a continental tour. They enjoyed sightseeing in Italy in aristocratic company, but Mrs. Garrick suffered from what was apparently, a slipped disk.

Garrick contracted typhoid in Venice and nearly died in Munich. They wintered in Paris, where Garrick enlarged his acquaintance with French literary and theatrical celebrities. Wealso met Shakespearean enthusiasts and the philosophers.

After returning (spring 1765), he appeared in no new parts. 10 years passed before he was prepared to sell his share of the Drury Lane patent. A series of farewell performances included four Shakespearean parts. Benedick, Hamlet, Richard III, and Lear as well as Abel Drugger.

Sir John Brute from Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife, Archer from The Beaux’ Stratagem. His last performance, Don Felix from Susannah Centlivre’s The Wonder, A Woman Keeps a Secret.

Garrick’s retirement was happy. In London he was a member of Johnson’s Literary Club and Brooks’s. At Hampton he had his duties as squire, his library and garden, his dogs, and his nieces and nephews.

Health

All of his life he suffered from kidney trouble and was taken ill while staying with his old friends Lord and Lady Spencer. He stayed at Althorp Park Northamptonshire, for the New Year and in 1779. He died at his house in Adelphi Terrace shortly thereafter.

Garrick was buried in the Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. A monument in Lichfield cathedral bears Johnson’s famous quote. “I am disappointed by that stroke of death that has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.”